Criminology is a field of the behavioral sciences focusing on the causes, incidences and control of individual and group criminal behavior. Criminologists research the forms of a crime and the legal punishments for criminal behavior. There are two main schools of thought within criminology, which developed in the middle of the 18th century: Classical and Chicago. There are, however, many other theories in addition to these two, some of which are subsets of them.
The Classical Theory of Criminology developed at the same time as the French Revolution and the beginnings of governments’ use of prisons for punishment. The Theory relies heavily on deterrence as the way to stop criminal behavior. It believes that individuals decide to act criminally regardless of irrationality. Because of this, the best way to deter criminal behavior is to make punishment certain.
The Chicago Theory, developed in the 1920’s by professors at the University of Chicago, postulates that social ecology contributes to criminal behavior. Specifically, with higher concentrations of poverty and isolated social groups, crime rates increase. What results in these neighborhoods is social disorganization, which leads to increased criminal behavior. Associated with this Theory is the theory that criminal behavior can be learned by other residents in such areas.
Strain theory, developed out of Robert Merton concept of “anomie”, which is the split between an individual’s goals and the impediment society poses to achieving those goals. The Theory, created by Robert Agnew in 1992, postulates that stress and worry is the impetus for criminal behavior, and that these emotions are due to anomie. There are three major types of strain: inability to achieve goals, the loss of positive motivations and the amount of negativity in an individuals’ life. Strain can be measured in one of two ways: either by the subject identifying the aspect of his life that causes his strain, or by the researcher pre-determining causes of strain and asking the subject whether those causes exist in his life. Agnew’s research drew connections between the strains in a person’s life and negativity, which was subsequently connected to criminal behavior.
Social Learning Theory
The social learning theory, developed by Albert Bandura, argues that individuals do not possess inherent criminal tendencies, but rather learn criminal behavior from others. The majority of Bandura’s work focused on children, analyzing how their criminal behavior was learned from parents. Bandura believed that if criminal behavior was not learned or prevented from being learned during childhood, the individual would not have a tendency to commit crimes later in life. While the theory is accepted as a cause of criminal behavior, it is also criticized for overlooking biological tendencies.
This theory, developed by Travis Hirschi, proposes that criminal behavior can be thwarted by controlling behavior identified as anti-social. To Hirshi, teaching proper behavior would end criminal behavior. There are four main types of control: direct, internal, indirect and satisfaction. The latter refers to meeting an individual’s needs; once that happens there is no need for them to engage in criminal behavior to fulfill their basic wants. Indirect control refers to the analysis of how criminal behavior might impact others whose opinions are important to the individual, such as parents.
The criminological theory of labeling was developed by Thomas Blomberg, a professor at the University of California Berkley during the student-led protests of Vietnam. This theory rests on an individual’s rejection of established social structures. This theory focuses on the development, application and subsequent reaction to labels established by a ruling body, such as the government or president of a university. Rejection of labels under this Theory can be primary, such as in breaking a law, or in secondary, such as an individual choosing an alternative career path.
Social Disorganization Theory
This theory is commonly referred to as the “Chicago Theory”. Established by Henry McKay and Clifford Shaw, the theory attributes criminal behavior to the breakdown of normal social structures in homogenous, poor neighborhoods. These neighborhoods, the scientists’ argued, are more isolated than others and therefore often fail to develop the same social structure as other areas. This means that the neighborhood’s inhabitants are left to identify separate definitions of acceptable behavior.
Critical theories of Criminology reject the legal definitions of a crime and any analysis that attempts to find causation for criminal behavior. Mainly, this theory focuses on social and governmental inequality as the impetus for criminal behavior. For this theory, then, racism, sexism, capitalism and socially-established inequalities cause crimes. As it pertains to criminology, Marxism is a critical theory.
Situations Conducive To Crime
This Theory focuses on preventing crime, namely by eliminating situations that could cause crimes to occur. Theoretically, if an individual is not prevented with a situation conducive to a crime, crimes would cease. These theorists point to using burglar alarms as a way to implement the theory. Within this theory is the necessary view that all criminals have the ability to think rationally.
The Integrated Theories of criminology argue that more than one theory must be considered and applied to properly study crimes. Practitioners of Integrated Theory Criminology often combine critical, constructive, integrative and positivist theories to analyze a situation. The theories that are combined depend on the subject to be analyzed; groups may be researched under the social disorganization and labeling theory, but an individual may be analyzed under learned and labeling theories.
The Future of Crime Theories
Many criminologists believe that the future of the field lies in combining multiple critical theories. This combination could be of two criminology theories, or a combination of theories from different sociological fields. For example, the social control theory could be combined with a biological theory of human chemical compositions proven to cause violent tendencies. Holistic and psychological theories may also be combined with criminology theories.